A Look Inside City of Joy
A Day in the Life
The City of Joy is a bustling community that mimics the setting of a typical Congolese village, including a cluster of nine small houses where women live and sleep, an orchard, an area for livestock, and many communal places to gather, learn, talk, and enjoy each other's company. Each residence is viewed as a communal space and is administered by one burgomaster who is assisted by a 'policewoman' in charge of discipline. Rooms are considered to be districts. The representatives of districts in the residences, the policewomen, and the burgomasters form the communal council, and all oversee their upkeep. The mayor of the City of Joy, elected by all residents, is the spokeswoman of all the residents. In this way, the City of Joy has its own local government. Classes and activities take place from Monday to Friday between 8AM and 6PM. Saturday is reserved for tidying the grounds, and Sunday for a free outing. Meals are eaten communally.
Portrait of Jane Mukuninwa
Jane Mukuninwa is a Congolese women's rights activist. A survivor who first came to V-Day partner Panzi hospital as Jeanne, she underwent numerous surgeries to repair her fistula injuries. Jane was instrumental in helping to envision the City of Joy, and was part of its first class. The program transformed her, and she now goes by "Jane" to reflect that transformation and her new life. Today she is part of the City of Joy staff and an outspoken leader who has traveled to Nairobi and London for speaking events.
Vagina Warrior Program
The City of Joy is founded on the core belief that there is a deep connection between recovery and leadership, empowerment and service, healing oneself and healing others in the community. In the V-Day movement, we call women who have survived great trauma but have moved through it and committed to ending it "Vagina Warriors." Vagina Warriors are women who have experienced their rage, depression, and desire for revenge and have transformed these feelings through grieving into service for others. Vagina Warriors are community makers and because what they have survived is often done in isolation and remains unseen and unreported, they work to make the invisible visible.
To this end, the City of Joy's Vagina Warrior program, is grounded in the following core principles:
- Each woman is unique, valuable to her society, and has a right to be treated with dignity, respect, love, and compassion
- Women are not broken "victims"; rather they are survivors who have been through atrocious sexual traumas
- Each woman is capable of activating her own ability to recover, heal, and be an empowered and transformational leader
The program includes:
- Comprehensive Sexuality Education
- Gender Rights
- Human Rights
- Physical Education
- Agro-Pastoral Programming
- Culinary Arts
- Computer Literacy
- Media Training
- Community Service
The City of Joy and V-Day's Congo work is led by international and local human rights activist Christine Schuler Deschryver, a native of Congo. Christine is overseeing a staff of 45 Congolese women and men. Each is a necessary part of the team, creating a community of well equipped and caring adults.
In early 2012, V-Day Congo, with the support of the Schmidt Family Foundation, purchased a sustainable farm set on 338 hectares of arable land located near the village of Nyanghezi, and about 20km south of the City of Joy. The farm is ripe with
possibilities for the growth of tilapia, chickens, cows, goats, pigs, rice, honey, wool, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and cereals.
V-Day is currently assembling a team of experts in permaculture, solar energy, composting, recycling, and other environmental expertise to develop a vision and plan for the farm.
An immediate goal of the V-World Farm is to generate crops and food that can be consumed at the City of Joy by its residents (offsetting the cost of food), as well as crops that can be sold for profit to the surrounding community. The farm will also serve as a valuable teaching and healing tool for women enrolled at the City of Joy. In many ways, V-World Farm is the next stage in V-Day's City of Joy project. By supporting its creation, V-Day will truly enable the City of Joy vision to take hold. With 90 women per six-month class, V-Day will offer the opportunity of working at the V-World Farm to graduates so that women can continue to benefit from the therapeutic aspects of farming and animal husbandry, and a sustainable, earth friendly lifestyle that they learned at City of Joy.
Year One Highlights & Evaluation Findings
- The first two groups of women who have transitioned from the City of Joy are sensitizing their communities, influencing them to get involved in the struggle against gender based violence and retrograde beliefs about women and girls in Congolese society
- On a small scale, the City of Joy helps to end the stigmatization that often occurs of women survivors. As a result of the transformation women survivors are going through, their families are putting pressure on husbands and parents to accept their wives and their daughters. Local authorities are prosecuting perpetrators
- The project has successfully helped women to transform their pain to power, improving their health and skill set
- The training program and the active methods used in the learning process are effective and have allowed the program to produce high quality graduates
- The Congolese women and girls trained at the City of Joy have become leaders and are applying their training in their communities, where their new skills have given them new status
- 42 women graduated from the first class in January 2012, 90 women graduated in August 2012
- Women report the City of Joy's therapy program to have had a transformational impact, emotionally, physically, and intellectually
- As a result of the program, women have had many "firsts" - first votes, first emails, first words of English, first experiences with birth control, first massages. And so many more life-changing "firsts"
- Women are leaving the City of Joy with a powerful set of skills in language, massage, communications, computer literacy, sexual health, crafts, nutrition, physical education, self-defense, horticulture and environmental studies, self-care, human rights, civics, and more
- Women are returning to their villages and opening up businesses, building cooperatives, opening orphanages and homes for the infirm, and educating girls